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Old 08-15-2014, 01:30 AM   #1
Gregg Bell
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Memoir or straight non-fiction for short non-fiction ebook?

Okay, so I'm thinking I'll be able to generate some interest in my novels with some short non-fiction ebooks.

Now I’m no expert in anything (except in maybe how not to sell ebooks) so I wouldn’t be claiming expertise like many non-fiction authors do. But I’ve been seeing a lot of short non-fiction ebooks (under 100 pages) by authors who equally lack credentials so I figured, Why not? So say if I was writing an ebook on dealing with fear. I could do:

1) Overcoming Fear: Five Quick Steps Guaranteed to Banish Your Fear Forever

Or:

2) How I Overcame Fear: My Eight Years in a Gulag

The second one is really like a memoir I suppose, and if I wanted to write a lot of little non-fiction ebooks, which I do, it would seem strange to me to have a lot of memoirs.

What do you guys think?
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Old 08-15-2014, 05:37 AM   #2
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Did you spend eight years in a gulag? Some readers might find that interesting. If it's just a metaphor then I might accept it in a blog post title, but I wouldn't be impressed in a non-fiction novella title.

Lots of people write generic non-fiction/memoir stuff, but I can't say that I know anyone that reads them. It seems to me that the interest vector goes the other way: a reader likes the fiction/writing enough to be curious about the author.

Even then, there can be limits: I'm a Stephen King fan of sorts (his earlier stuff at least) but there's a collection of short stories that includes two non-fiction pieces (baseball), and my comment in my little private reading log was: " I guess he really is famous enough to sell his shopping list" On the other hand, I did like his "On Writing" book - both the biographical parts and the sharing of his experience/expertise.
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Old 08-15-2014, 05:57 AM   #3
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If I understand Gregg's post correctly he was using a figure of speech by comparing a state of fear to being in a prison gmw. Something I think many (if not all) of us can relate to at one point or another in our lives. Fear (like depression) can keep us from moving forward. I think # 2 would make for the more interesting reading myself. Fear isn't often that easy to shrug off though once we do we often find ourselves wondering what we were so afraid of in the first place. Why not combine the two into one book? First tell the story of your fight against fear and then at the end include some tips on how someone can work to break the chains that fear can place on a person?
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Old 08-15-2014, 06:26 AM   #4
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crich70, I did sort of assume that it was a metaphor/figure-of-speech - but my comment stands: I don't find such use appropriate for a non-fiction title of this type. Which isn't to say that some people don't do it, only to say that I personnally don't like it (I find it too flippant with regard to the real thing, and there is an inherent political connotation to the word that seems unlikely to be applicable in this case).

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Old 08-15-2014, 06:32 AM   #5
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crich70, I did sort of assume that it was a metaphor/figure-of-speech - but my comment stands: I don't find such use appropriate for a non-fiction title of this type. Which isn't to say that some people don't do it, only to say that I personnally don't like it (I find it too flippant with regard to the real thing, and there is an inherent political connotation to the word that seems unlikely to be applicable in this case).
Touche. I may have misunderstood your post. Still I wager the term may be older than communist Russia, which is what springs to my mind at 1st when I hear the word gulag.
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Old 08-15-2014, 06:54 AM   #6
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Touche. I may have misunderstood your post. Still I wager the term may be older than communist Russia, which is what springs to my mind at 1st when I hear the word gulag.
"Gulag" is apparently quite new - it's an acronym. OED has its first reference as 1946. Dictionary.com says 1970-75, it has as its third definition: "any prison or detention camp, especially for political prisoners." - which means that America still has one (may be I should have kept that for the PR subforum).
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Old 08-15-2014, 01:13 PM   #7
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...
But I’ve been seeing a lot of short non-fiction ebooks (under 100 pages) by authors who equally lack credentials so I figured, Why not? So say if I was writing an ebook on dealing with fear. I could do:
Don’t write non-fiction just because “Why not?” -- write it for the same reasons you write fiction --- you have a story to tell. Either your own story, or a story you have researched (or want to research).

Do you want to tell a story about fear? Do you have five easy steps to overcoming fear? Are they your five steps? Are they really guaranteed to work? That’s a pretty big claim. How many people have you shared these five steps with who will back you up that they work?

Just to be totally honest -- if I looked at your website or amazon author page or whatever and saw a few thriller novels I might try one -- if I saw a few thriller novels and a few short non-expert self-help titles that sound more like a sales pitch than research or experience, I’d immediately move on.

Maybe you do have a story to tell about fear. But is it five easy steps you want to sell me, or is it a personal story of your own stuggles that you want to share? The latter might actually be interesting, but--

Quote:
The second one is really like a memoir I suppose, and if I wanted to write a lot of little non-fiction ebooks, which I do, it would seem strange to me to have a lot of memoirs.
True enough. But it seems you are looking at things backwards -- trying to imagine what kind of bibliography you might have in N-years, rather than what you really want to write today.

If you want to write lots of short non-fiction, act like a journalist and write short pieces researching this, that, and other things under a separate blog. Maybe you’ll research current science and technology. Maybe you’ll incorporate bits of that research into your next novels. Maybe N-years from now you’ll have material for a non-fiction book on what technology succeeded and what fizzled. Or maybe a book on how you incorporated your non-fiction research into your novels. Or maybe -- anything, but at least you’ll be writing interesting things now rather than thinking about your future bibliography.
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Old 08-15-2014, 08:38 PM   #8
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Okay. Thanks so much for the feedback. But (my bad) I have to say I was being flippant with the projected titles, poking fun at the titles that are out there now, at least quite a few of them.

gmw:Lots of people write generic non-fiction/memoir stuff, but I can't say that I know anyone that reads them

A lot of people do. That's what got me thinking about it. And a lot of these things (that sell!) are under 50 pages. What I'm planning on doing is re-naming my blog and having it deal with more serious issues (probably its main focus being spirituality). Then writing non-fiction on those same serious issues. And doing that for its own sake. If people happen to become interested in my novels that would be nice, but not necessary.

crich: Despite poking fun at the titles I have struggled tremendously with fear in my life and do have a lot to say about overcoming it.

jandrew: Thanks. I hear you about having integrity. As I've said (I regret it now) the titles were poking fun at other titles.

I've gotten a lot of good feedback from people about my book reviews and blog and novels. I think I could do some expert pieces on non-fiction stuff too. I admit I don't have the credentials to write non-fiction, but people with credentials have done a lot of worthless stuff and the flipside is true as well. And I have seen many books written as non-memoirs by people without credentials. Bottom line: if it's good, it's good.

And I'm assuming the emphasis you were referring to was on the "non-expert" nature of the non-fiction pieces (alongside the thrillers).

To me you hear so much about branding, it's like you're afraid to do anything but what you've already done before. But I plan on writing great non-fiction and great fiction. (Sound so pompous as I write it but I think you get my gist.)

Really (again sounding so crassly commercially oriented) what I wanted to know from the original post was:

Which is more commercially viable: a memoir type non-fiction, or a straight-forward less subjective treatment of the same subject.
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Old 08-16-2014, 01:27 AM   #9
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Gregg, I think I see what you intended now, but the humour didn't come over in the OP (for me, anyway), which is always the hazard with humour.

Not sure if we were operating at cross-purposes with how many people read non-fiction/memoir stuff. Yes, I do know people that read non-fiction of many different sorts, and some that read memoirs, BUT those that do (that I know of) read it because the particular subject/experience is of relevance to them. I would normally imagine that the two different sorts of writing would be (at the start, at least) targetting two different audiences. There are examples to the contrary, but I think they're exceptions rather than rules.

I doubt if there is a rule that says memoir is commercially better than other non-fiction on the same subject, or vise versa. I suspect it has more to do with how effectively the author can handle the subject in either form, than the form itself. (There are some fiction stories, I find, that just have to be told in the first person, they wouldn't work any other way, while others would fail badly in the first person.) Find out what seems to work best for you and your subject, and give it a try.

Other than that, I'd just re-read jandrew's post, I think that says most of what you really need to know.

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Old 08-16-2014, 09:26 PM   #10
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Thanks gmw. That's exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for. Wasn't sure what you meant by this, though:

I would normally imagine that the two different sorts of writing would be (at the start, at least) targetting two different audiences.

So one book is memoir type: eg How I overcame fear: my personal victory over fear.
The other is straight non-fiction:eg How to overcome fear in 5 steps

How would those two books be targeting different audiences?

You wrote:
I doubt if there is a rule that says memoir is commercially better than other non-fiction on the same subject, or vise versa. I suspect it has more to do with how effectively the author can handle the subject in either form, than the form itself.

I think that's right on the money. I'm really thinking the memoir type style is more my natural style, but that can be kind of limiting because I mean how many memoirs can a person write? And nothing stops me from writing both styles. I'll just have to experiment.

Appreciate the feedback.
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Old 08-16-2014, 10:10 PM   #11
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crich: Despite poking fun at the titles I have struggled tremendously with fear in my life and do have a lot to say about overcoming it.
I think you may have missed part of what I said at the end Gregg.

Quote:
Why not combine the two into one book? First tell the story of your fight against fear and then at the end include some tips on how someone can work to break the chains that fear can place on a person?
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Old 08-17-2014, 12:49 AM   #12
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Thanks gmw. That's exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for. Wasn't sure what you meant by this, though:

I would normally imagine that the two different sorts of writing would be (at the start, at least) targetting two different audiences.

So one book is memoir type: eg How I overcame fear: my personal victory over fear.
The other is straight non-fiction:eg How to overcome fear in 5 steps

How would those two books be targeting different audiences?[...]
Sorry, that was unclear. The two different sorts of writing in that paragraph were referring to your fiction vs your non-fiction (rather than memoir vs other). It's always risky to over-generalise on this stuff, but it seems to me that (at least until you become a well known author) you are unlikely to see much cross-over between those looking at your fiction and those looking at your non-fiction. Indeed, as jandrew suggested, you may find some turned away by the mix.
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Old 08-17-2014, 04:06 AM   #13
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Sorry, that was unclear. The two different sorts of writing in that paragraph were referring to your fiction vs your non-fiction (rather than memoir vs other). It's always risky to over-generalise on this stuff, but it seems to me that (at least until you become a well known author) you are unlikely to see much cross-over between those looking at your fiction and those looking at your non-fiction. Indeed, as jandrew suggested, you may find some turned away by the mix.
Authors of the past have written some fiction based on personal non-fiction though. Charles Dickens for example based at least part of his novels like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield on his own experiences of poverty as a child.
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Old 08-17-2014, 06:53 AM   #14
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Authors of the past have written some fiction based on personal non-fiction though. Charles Dickens for example based at least part of his novels like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield on his own experiences of poverty as a child.
Indeed they have, and some even do it now. But do you notice anything about those authors? They are journalists first. Writing is what they did/do all the time, it's how they made/make their living. I may be mistaken, I don't know Gregg personally, but I don't get the impression that this would be an accurate description of him.

The OP starts with "I'm thinking I'll be able to generate some interest in my novels with some short non-fiction ebooks."

My opinion, and it is only that, is that it is unlikely to work that way for him.

Writers of science fiction may be able to call on their expertise to write science books (I read Asimov's "Guide to Science" books). Writers of crime books, if they have sufficient expertise, may be able to call on that expertise to write interesting non-fiction about how crime investigation takes place. In such special cases there may indeed be cross-over of readers between the two types of writing. But in less specialised areas there is less chance of such common interest between fact and fiction. If Gregg had suggested writing a travelogue that made use of the research and special knowledge he has gained from writing his fiction, then I could see some cross-over there. I don't see much cross-over between fiction and self-help (but I reserve the right to be proven wrong ).
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Old 08-18-2014, 01:09 AM   #15
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I think you may have missed part of what I said at the end Gregg.
I hear you, crich. Something about that combining just doesn't sit well with me. Like what category would you put the book in? Memoir? Psychology? And it's like you're either writing as an expert (the straight non-fiction) (even if you're just an extremely knowledgeable human being), or you're writing from your personal experience (the memoir). (In many ways, the latter is less risky, because you avoid the 'who are you to write about this stuff?' question. But many who write straight non-fiction make immediate disclaimers that they are not experts, then they give their reason for why they are qualified to write about it anyway (some claiming their authority comes from being a non-expert!).)
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